The Future is Failure

I missed my self-imposed blog deadline for May and consequently, have been struggling to write this post for weeks.

Since my last entry, I had been feeling like a complete failure. You may remember I had entered a short story competition. As I was writing that story, I could feel that it was a checklist exercise more than any kind of worthwhile piece. I wasn’t proud of it, I didn’t like the characters and I wondered why I was even bothering. But this is the thing when it comes to writing (or indeed any skill); it doesn’t matter if it’s any good. As long as it’s written and it’s shipped, it will be working towards improving your overall skills.

However, something switched once it was shipped. After I had submitted it to the competition board, I was overwhelmed with pride in my work. Not only was it something I could happily put my name to – it was going to win. The competition entry T’s&C’s read: “Winners must make themselves available for events”. So, naturally, I started practising my patter for these events in the bathroom mirror, in the rear-view mirror, or (to be honest) any surface that might make a suggestion of a reflection. My grandfather, a wise old man whose motto was “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” had always supported me as a writer and this was going to be my chance to share my accomplishments with him. I was going to send him a copy of my published work and invite him to all these wild events I was obliged to attend.

Perhaps needless to say, I didn’t win the competition. I didn’t even make it to the long list. My thoughts spiralled thus:

You cannot write
You are not a writer
You will never be a writer
You have failed your grandfather
Your grandfather will soon die and you will have run out of time to make him proud
You have killed your grandfather

Then a financial adviser came along and suggested to my mother (the director of my company) and me (the other director of my company) that we sell the business rather than have me take it over. Well now, wasn’t this a change of focus?

It felt like fireworks in my mind. So many ideas began blazing and whistling through a previously darkened sky. I lost sleep with the excitement of a possible future where we had successfully sold the business. Running the business as a family had been really hard and the expectations for me to manage it once my mother retired had been weighing heavily on my mind.

I soon realised that if I wanted to get the business to a position where it would be an attractive proposition for a potential buyer, I needed to work hard, with relentless passion and commitment. Therefore something else in my life would have to give. But that something had already given, right? Through this prism, ‘writing’ was no longer something that had beaten me, I had purposely put it on hold!

“I can’t get the business into a marketable state AND become a best selling author”, I told myself in the same rear-view mirror I had practised my award-winning speeches (it is true, road safety should probably be more of a priority in my life).

I thought I would have time for writing afterwards. Maybe in a few years, once I’d read a few hundred more books and I was an older, wiser, more advanced person, my writing would somehow be naturally better, rather than through practice (I think you can see where I am going with this. It’s a kind of self-delusion by which, I mean, I’m kidding myself)

Then I took a massive hit at work. In a pitch to a new client (a pitch my new business plan depended upon me winning), the feedback from the client was “to be perfectly honest, I switched off after the first slide”.

My failure spiral became like a helter-skelter and I, a child, who had not yet learnt that I don’t have to keep climbing those stairs, cheap hessian sack in one hand and a fistful of dreams in the other. I ruminated as follows:

You cannot win a business pitch
You are not a business person
You will never be a business person
You have failed your mother
Your mother will soon retire soon and you will have run out of time to make her believe in you
You have killed your mother.

In a hazy stupor, I climbed the ladder to my attic. My attic isn’t like other people’s attics. It is full of art supplies, half-completed novels and soft chairs all illuminated by two skylights so that rain or shine, I feel like I am pressed up against the heavens. It is my sanctuary and if I didn’t have dogs to walk and partners to love and work to do, I would spend my days daydreaming out of those two skylights.

I started to organise some of the papers that littered the attic floor and as I did I read over my previous notes.

They were well written.
They were fun.
Sometimes, they were meaningful.

It made me want to write all the stories in my mind immediately (which to be honest isn’t a useful feeling but it was far better than the shit I had been weighed under until that point).

Realisation came tumbling over me. I had deluded myself into thinking that once the business was sold in 3 or 5 or 7 years, I would then have time for my writing. This is nonsense on so many levels.

I didn’t write for success (I just daydream for success apparently). I wrote because I enjoyed it and because I wanted to get better at it every single day. I wrote because of the experience of writing and because of the journey it took me on. I would never have some magical time when I could get round to doing all the stuff I could be doing now. To wait for some imagined goal, like selling the business, at the expense of one of my life’s most satisfying journeys suddenly became an exercise in lunacy. But there was a problem. Rather than addressing my “failures” for what they were, I had weaved them into my identity. My spiral now was a one-track slide and it went like this

I am a failure.

That night I lay in bed, this time not being able to sleep because my nighttime podcast played in the background and it was on the theme of ‘Failure’. James Dyson (of vacuum cleaner fame) was featured and he was discussing what an exciting prospect failure is.

‘…just when you’ve had enough,” Dyson said, “and you think you’re never going to get the answer, that’s the point where you must try even harder. Because that’s the point where everybody else gave up.”

In fact, he even came to the conclusion that success can be more disappointing because it means you need to find something else to move onto.

I had not been writing my blog because I identified as a failure. I spent more time battling with these negative thoughts and trying to beat down the unhappiness that failure brings, rather than seeing it as an opportunity for learning and growth. Yes, these failures are a part of my identity, but in a good way and a way I should embrace. Starting with writing a blog about it.

Grammar Task 4

Taken from ‘Norse Mythology’ by Neil Gaiman

which can be found here:

The answers to the below can be found here:

sigyn lokis wife had watched as her husband was bound in the entrails of their son and she said nothing she wept silently to herself for the pain of her husband for the death and dishonour of their sons she held a bowl although she did not yet know why before the gods had brought her there they had told her to go to the kitchen and bring the biggest bowl she had skadi giant daughter of dead thiazi wife of njord of the beautiful feet came into the cave then she carried something huge in her hands something that writhed and twisted she bent over loki and placed the thing she was carrying above him winding it about the stalactites that hung from the ceiling of the cave so that its head was just above lokis own it was a snake cold of eye its tongue flickering its fangs dripping with poison it hissed and a drop of poison from its mouth dripped onto lokis face making his eyes burn loki screamed and contorted writhing and twisting in pain he tried to get out of the way to move his head from beneath the poison the bonds that had once been the entrails of his own son held him tightly one by one the gods left that place with grimly satisfied looks on their faces soon only kvasir was left sigyn looked at her bound husband and at the disembowelled corpse of her wolf murdered son what are you going to do to me she asked nothing said kvasir you are not being punished you may do whatever you wish and then even he left that place another drop of the serpents venom dripped onto lokis face and he screamed and threw himself about writhing in his bonds the earth itself shook at lokis threshing sigyn took her bowl and went to her husband she said nothing what was there to say but she stood beside lokis head with tears in her eyes and caught each drop of poison as it fell from the snakes fangs into her bowl 

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